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Oregon Evaluators Week: Using R to Automate Analysis and Provide Immediate Feedback to Clients by David Keyes

I’m David Keyes, the founder of R for the Rest of Us. 

In addition to training folks to use R, I also do consulting work, helping organizations to do complex tasks with R to improve their work. Through doing this work, I’ve become convinced that R has the power to provide immediate feedback to organizations in ways that we as evaluators always hope is possible. Automating data analysis and communication is something R shines at, and it has the potential to provide immediate feedback to the many organizations that could benefit from it. 

One client I’ve trained and done consulting with is Prosper Portland, the economic development arm of the city government. In March, when the state of Oregon announced lockdowns due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a health and an economic crisis. Prosper Portland quickly set up a small business relief fund. One challenge Prosper Portland faced was the sheer volume of communication it was receiving from businesses desperate to receive support. 

Working with Prosper Portland, we set up an automated process where staff put data about phone and email contacts in a Google Sheet. I wrote R code that downloaded that data, generated a summary, and emailed it to Prosper Portland staff every morning. Armed with a summary of their progress each morning, Prosper Portland was able to adjust their approach to serve as many businesses as possible. 

Doing this type of work in R can save hours of manual work. Instead of generating these reports each morning, the code I wrote once could generate the reports every day without me doing anything. Automating this type of work facilitates immediate feedback, and enables staff at organizations like Prosper Portland to spend their time on deeper work. 

Hot Tip: The place I get most help with R questions is Twitter. R users can be found under the hashtag #rstats. Not only are R users helpful, they’re also incredibly supportive of beginners. No question is too simple!

Rad Resource: The RStudio primers are a great place to get started learning R. They are a set of interactive tutorials that can help you get up and running with R.

This week, AEA365 is featuring posts from evaluators in Oregon. Since Evaluation 2020 was moved from Portland, OR to online, a generous group of Oregon evaluators got together to offer content on a variety of topics relevant to evaluators. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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